I Am Filled With Wonder
By James Dillet Freeman
EVERY TIME I read the Christmas story in the Bible, I am filled with wonder - no more about the event itself than about those who had a role to play in it. Have you ever imagined what it would be like to have been one of them? What would you have felt? What would you have thought?
What must the shepherds have thought, out there on the empty hills tending their sheep in the lonely night, when suddenly the skies were filled with shining hosts of singing angels? They had to be simple country people. If they had been sophisticated city dwellers, they might have been too skeptical to accept such heavenly visitors.
When the heavens opened and the shining hosts poured singing forth, the shepherds listened. They had to have the faith to believe and then they had to have the courage to follow. But because they had a sense of wonder, they beheld the wonder of God.
Then there are the angels. Do you believe in angels? If you do, what do you think they are like? Winged creatures or winged thoughts?
Personally I have always believed in angels, though I would be hard put to describe them. They are the singers of the heavenly song, the carriers of the creative spirit.
I like the use the Bible makes of them. For I observe throughout its pages that when God has a special communication to make to men, He hardly ever appears Himself. I suppose that might be a little too much, not only overwhelming in its awesome majesty, but the Infinite in all its allness might be beyond our power to comprehend. So when Infinite has something special it wants to say, it sends an angel. Angels, to me, are the inspiration of the Almighty tuned to the highest creative pitch we humans can catch or bear. It is no wonder then that we describe them as winged and flaming and soaring high above us, or that we catch what they have to say as song.
Then there are the Wise Men. It is an interesting commentary on life that while the shepherds got there that night the Babe was born, it was not until twelve nights later, according to tradition, that the Wise Men arrived. That is the way it always is, isn?t it? Simple faith can go directly toward what it seeks and may even hit the mark without taking aim. But reason always has to take a circuitous route. Reason states propositions, makes inferences, draws conclusions.
The Wise Men could not have angels, they had to have a star. Angels and stars are both celestial phenomena, but oh, what different ones! Yet I wonder if it makes any difference whether we find our way by natural or supernatural means. I imagine the Wise Men found the birthing-place by some form of astronomical navigation acceptable in the scientific circles of their time.
But once they found the truth, the Wise Men brought to its service the rich gifts only the mind has power to bring. According to tradition, the Wise Men symbolise the spread of truth to the world. A shepherd heart may wake to inspiration instantly and easily where intelligence may wind slowly and laboriously to the truth. But intelligence knows how to make the truth known to the world.
I have often thought of those Wise Men, illustrious princes of the intellect, proud in their learning and scientific lore, travelling through long dark nights to a stable, to find a baby lying in a manger, and to kneel beside cattle on the stable floor - that is a very long way for the mind to go. Yet is this not the journey we have to take to find every new truth, every original creative insight? A new truth is not born untrumpeted in a secret, solitary mind, hardly recognised at first. It takes a very wise man to fall down and worship it.
Then there are the cattle. Sometimes in our human pride we forget they must have been there. The Child was born in a stable. I?ve always liked that part of the story, because the God I believe in is love and life and the least of things is as dear to Him as the highest. A sparrow is as much as a star. An ox and a sheep are as dear as a wise man and an angel. When the sum has all been added up, no least thing will be left out.
So on that night, that holy night, that night of unparalleled glory and wonder, love made sure that the humble beasts were there. What a thrill of pride must have run around that stable, from the ox in whose manger the Child lay to the small mouse peering from under a haystack in the corner. Is there any of us so arrogant that he does not feel a little of this feeling?
Finally there is the holy family. First of all there is Joseph. We pay so much attention to Madonna and Child that sometimes we almost forget he was there. Personally I have a great deal of sympathy for Joseph. I can imagine how I would have reacted as a young man, had I been in love with a girl and found out she was with child. It would have taken a mighty persuasive angel to convince me that I should marry her.
Joseph must have been very much in love with Mary. That is the only thing that makes the story possible. He had to accept this child, knowing it wasn?t his - or was it his? That?s not an idle question. What is it that makes a child yours? It?s not just the accident of birth.
I see Joseph standing there that night, off in the corner - because that is where we usually see him, isn?t it? - shouldered out by all the celestial fanfare. But as far as we know, he was the only one there when the baby was being born. So he must have been the one to help.
He must have been a very warm man, and a very patient man. He must have had a gentle sense of humour and he must have had a quiet discipline of mind and soul. Oh, there must have been a great deal of human love and human kindness and human understanding in this man Joseph. How fortunate Mary was, how fortunate Jesus was to have had him there.
And Mary - of all the figures in the tale she is probably the best known to most of us. We are familiar with so many pictures, statues, songs and poems in which she is the central figure. She is the divine mother and she stands for love, but there is a human being here, too.
She was a very young girl and she found herself with child in a most extraordinary way, what with angels coming down and making periodic announcements and the like. That must have been quite a thing to hear - that your child was to be the world saviour! It would fill you with a great deal of fear and a great deal of pride, wouldn?t it?
Yet I sounder if most mothers, holding their babe in their arms, have not felt much the same great expectations Mary felt. I have a feeling every mother thrills with fear and pride as she gazes at her new-born child and wonders what it may grow to be.
And last, of course, there is the child. According to the story, this was God as He appears to be when He appears as man, the Infinite in the form of an infant!
It?s understandable, I?m sure, that hose who beheld Him fell down and worshiped Him.
But I?ve thought about that, too. Is there any infant who doesn?t have about him something of the awesome infinite, when you think of what he may be? And can the Infinite ever appear to us in any other form save that of an infant, for the Infinite must always be that which is yet more and has the power to grow.
I love this story, all of it. I am so glad that when God came He came in a stable. It would have been frightening had He been born in a palace, or even in an inn. But in a manger, that gives even me hope.
But then, I should have expected it to be like this, for as I say, the God I believe in is LOVE.
So this is my prayer for you this Christmas:
May there always be room in your heart for divinity to find a birthing-place. May you be holy as the angels were, faithful as the shepherds were, humble as the cattle were. May you have the compassion Mary had, and the understanding Joseph had, and may the blessing of the Christ child be yours, not because of His birth-night long ago, but because His love is born in you today!